The cartoon's smoking gets sanitized for modern audiences

Melody Time

“Fully restored” asserts the dust jacket for Walt Disney’s Melody Time, which debuted at No. 4 on the best-seller list. But when the tape hit stores, fans of the 1948 animated musical grab bag—never rereleased to theaters or available on video till now—began logging on to Internet newsgroups to question that billing. It seems that the label should probably read, “Partly Abridged!”

Why? Because “Pecos Bill,” the last of the film’s seven cartoon segments, has been roped and hog-tied. In the original version (near right), the legendary cowboy smokes cigarettes incessantly; in one shot, he ropes a cyclone while rolling a homemade number on his tongue, igniting the butt with a lightning bolt. For the VHS edition, those shots, along with some song lyrics describing Bill’s tobacco-sucking prowess, have been cut, leaving the tune with a roughly 20-second trim and one full verse missing—call it Arrhythmic Time. Plus, the Disney video elves have magically erased Bill’s cigarette in every remaining shot. “It’s a movie for kids,” says a Disney spokesperson. “We believe that inclusion of those segments’ original references to smoking would set an improper example for young viewers.”

Does this sanitization hurt the movie? A shot where Bill flipped a cigarette from his hand to his tongue is now obtuse (see below right). Still, animator Ward Kimball, who worked on the “Pecos” segment a half century ago, isn’t terribly upset. “I admire the fact that they’re worrying about it,” says the 84-year-old retiree. “After all, Walt died from chain-smoking.” Kimball is just glad the video police kept their scissors away from his favorite gag: When Bill gets a sloppy smooch from his girlfriend, Slue Foot Sue, his six-shooters phallically rise and fire off all by themselves. Kimball says it’s a lewd visual pun “on the old saying ‘get your gun off.'” He intended to remove the firing pistols in the final version—but “I realized Walt wasn’t into street smarts when he said, no, leave it in. He didn’t get it.” Perhaps like the video censors didn’t either.

Melody Time
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